The Space Shuttle Atlantis is prepped for its final launch on Friday, when it will embark on a 12-day mission delivering supplies to the ISS, installing a new Russian space station module, and replacing some aging battery packs on one of the station's solar arrays. But while shuttle-philes are lamenting the end of America's first era of manned space travel, shuttle managers are calling Friday's launch the 'last planned flight' rather than Atlantis's grand finale, hoping that Atlantis will fly again.
That's because when Atlantis returns from its mission later this month, it won't be parted out or shipped to a museum. It will be refitted for flight, prepped with a fuel tank and boosters in case NASA's next and final shuttle mission -- to be flown by Endeavour in November -- runs into some kind of trouble.
No one at NASA wants to see Atlantis launched in an emergency capacity. But there is a sentiment at the space agency that since Atlantis will be all cleaned up and ready for flight . . . can't we take her up just one more time?
This, of course, raises the question: what will serve as the lifeboat for the lifeboat? If Atlantis did go up with one last load of ISS supplies, there would be no shuttle on the ground ready to come to its aid. But it would give NASA mission managers one last hurrah. You know, after the first last hurrah.
Of course, adding an unscheduled launch to NASA's mission portfolio wouldn't be cheap, and the back office accounting folks may take issue with it. The National Research Council issued a report yesterday determining NASA's research labs to be ancient by modern standards. Budget cuts have already jeopardized the agency's ability to carry out the kind of cutting edge science America expects from it, so as much as we'd like to see a second last hurrah, NASA might be better off pinching its pennies.
"But while shuttle-philes are lamenting the end of America's first era of manned space travel..."
This isn't the first era of manned space travel, Mercury was, then Gemini, then Apollo. It is, however, the first reusable launch vehicle.
Ignoring the budget issues, I would be all for transforming the stand-by rescue mission into a science or delivery mission after we've already spent the resources to prepare it.
If we scrap the shuttles why cant we make a more modern reusable vehicle? The shuttle program has had plenty of ups and downs with many more ups. If we used rockets like the Apollo missions we wouldn't be conserving rescources and secondly say a disaster happens how can a rocket have enough space to carry the ISS crew home.
god speed atlantis
your ill informed, the shuttles are wasted resources, they are much bigger than is needed for their crew. the same could be done more efficiently with individual rockets. As far as rescuing the crew, its been said the capsules from the ares program will be used as life boats for the iss, similar to any sci fi movie you have seen, particularly star wars where pods are launched at a planet. The shuttles are old and their technology is dated. and in that regard the iss is old and dated and is old age thinking.
they should leave the shuttles docked to the iss, for future moon mission, if there are any.